Mei is a 38-year-old Chinese woman who came to New Zealand at the age of 16. Mei lives in Auckland and works part time in the education sector. She is married with school-age children.

I started smoking when I was probably 18, 19 years old. It was just the friends you make, and they started smoking – and back in 1999 it was kind of like a cool, social thing to do. Especially when you’re at that teenage period, you try to fit in. I think that’s why I started.

Back then we smoked rollies. I hated it the first time. My throat was burning and the smell and everything. I can’t remember why I carried on. It just became heavier as you catch up with your friends, and when people offer you a cigarette you’re just like, “Oh okay”.

I went into hairdressing. That’s probably how I became a daily smoker. Back then, everybody in the hairdressing industry was smoking. When you asked for a break they’d say, “Oh, you know, we’re so busy, we have so many clients”. But if you said, “Can I have a ciggie break?” they’d go, “Okay, go ahead”. That was the hairdressing culture back then, 20 years ago. I remember I’d buy a 20 pack probably every 2 or 3 days.  Then gradually I went up to the 25 pack.

It was very different back then. In those days, I craved for it. You know how you want something, that need-it-right-now kind of feeling? Now, I don’t smoke like that anymore. I don’t really think about it during daily life. I do social smoking, like whenever there’s a social thing or a party and you want one when you have a few sips of alcohol, you know.

I have a group of friends who are still regular smokers, so they just buy duty-free or whatever they can get their hands on. If I go to a group thing and they start to light up and they’re like, “Oh, you want one?” I’ll say, “Okay, yeah”. My friends just give them to me and I’ll have a puff. I can’t even finish a whole one.

If it’s just me and my partner and my kids, I wouldn’t smoke in front of my kids. I wouldn’t want them seeing me holding a cigarette. That’s just a mum-thing, you know.

I need a coffee more than a cigarette at this stage, so am not feeling like I want a cigarette when I get up. I used to get up first thing and have a cigarette. Or while I was driving, I couldn’t just do nothing – I’d just have to light up a cigarette while stuck in a traffic jam. 

Quit attempts

I tried a couple of times to quit. Just to give it a go, when I was 24, 25, to see what life was like without cigarettes. I remember struggling times, you know, just wanting something and eating chewing gum, and then you start eating more food. That’s why people usually put on a bit of weight, you know, when you try to quit the cigarettes – because you use another behaviour to exchange it.

I tried the patch. It didn’t work. I tried the very first batch of e-cigarettes. That just made me want a cigarette more. At the end of the day it’s your mind, isn’t it? If you’re telling yourself you don’t want to smoke, you’ll stop. But if you’re still craving for it, it doesn’t matter what you put on – it’ll just make you want a smoke more.

Just suddenly, one day, I didn’t have a craving for it anymore. I’m not sure if it was because I was pregnant. I think I quit a couple of months before I found out I was pregnant. And then 2 months later, bang, got pregnant. During the pregnancy I never picked up cigarettes. And you just don’t have a craving for it anymore after the birth – I think I completely stopped smoking for 4 or 5 years until my little boy got older. I was too busy, you know, kind of running around. I just forgot about it and by that time the price of cigarettes had gone through the roof.

Healthcare support to stop smoking

I don’t know anybody that’s used Quitline, but I hear about them a lot on TV and radio. The only advice I got from my GP was when I was pregnant. She told me if you are smoking or taking drugs don’t quit it, because that’s actually doing more damage than when you quit it. Because of the addiction. I remember that, ’cause I was the first one that got pregnant out of my friends. 

Tried vaping?

I have a vape. It’s just for social parties and stuff. Socially, if I couldn’t smoke, I’d vape. But I don’t really use it. I still prefer a cigarette. When you’ve had a busy day and you’re really tired and you have a cigarette and exhale, it like lightens you up. The cigarettes give you a hit, but the vape doesn’t. I don’t like the feel and I don’t feel much release from vaping. Some of my friends swear by it. They’re absolutely loving it. But personally, me and my partner, we still prefer cigarettes rather than vape.

Taxing tobacco

I’m not very keen on the government’s heavy tax on the cigarette policy. It’s very expensive now. With the cigarette prices so high I don’t know if it will make people quit cigarettes. It’ll probably make a few social smokers quit, but for people who are addicted to cigarettes, they’ll probably use all their money to buy cigarettes and, like, buy less groceries. I know it’s a strategy the government are using to get people to quit, but I think when people are addicted to something, the price won’t put them off. They will try other ways to get money. Addiction is addiction.

Smokefree 2025

I’ve definitely heard about Smokefree 2025 but I don’t think it will happen. That’s only in 4 years! I bet more people have started smoking because COVID-19 has put more stress on people. I mean, the idea sounds great. If they’re doing that for the good health of people, it’s a good idea and good on them planning it, but let’s wait and see. Like I said, addiction is addiction. 

Bans on places where people can smoke…

The ban on smoking in cars with children under 18 – I think that’s a good idea. The children don’t have a choice. They shouldn’t be forced into second-hand smoking. 

Legalising cannabis

I know people suffering and I think cannabis should be legal for medical use, definitely. It should be legal for at least hospital use. Whether it should be legal for recreational use – that depends.